When it comes to weight loss meal plans, the options can be overwhelming. There are diets for every need, taste, preference, and lifestyle: diets that restrict carbs, diets that increase fat intake, diets that reduce sugars, and diets that cut out red meat or gluten. The list goes on and on. How are we ever supposed to figure out what works best for us?
Despite all these options, there’s one aspect of meal plans that we often forget to take into consideration: longevity. Will you be able to maintain your diet over time (versus maintaining a short-term commitment and losing all the health benefits as soon as you “go off” your diet)? Because we’ve all been there before. We start a diet feeling ready to make a long-term commitment, then realize it’s just not sustainable.
That’s where a Mediterranean diet meal plan comes in. It’s a way to eat healthy and still have lots of tasty foods to choose from, and it’s easy to start because you don’t need to go to the grocery store and buy everything in the meat and cheese counter or the “no sugar” aisle. Better still, it’s got major health benefits; specifically, a reduced risk of heart disease and protection against chronic illnesses.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet refers to the lifestyle and eating habits of Mediterranean people (e.g., those who live near the Mediterranean Sea). This includes Italy, Greece, Spain, France, and other seaside countries. Not surprisingly — because wouldn’t we all eat more seafood if it were just a stone’s throw away? — the Mediterranean diet favors fresh fish over land-dwelling proteins. It also includes olive oil, soft cheeses, rich yogurts, and an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
With such a rich palate of foods to choose from, the diet’s health benefits are many. It helps regulate blood sugar levels, maintain mental health, and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. It can also be a wonderful way to help your meet your weight loss goals and encourage improved cognitive function.
So let’s start at the very beginning… (It’s a very fine place to start!)
Breakfast on the Mediterranean Diet
Mediterranean meals are rich in soft cheeses like ricotta and feta cheese, as well as fruits and vegetables. Here are some heart-healthy and nutritious breakfast recipes for a week of Mediterranean eating.
Eggs are a staple of the Mediterranean diet, which makes a frittata a fantastic option for breakfasts. A frittata is like a quiche but without the crust. It can be baked or fried, and you can add in your favorite vegetables and cheeses, like bell peppers, zucchini, and feta cheese for flavor and visual appeal.
The Mediterranean is a hotbed of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, which is why fruit salad makes so many appearances on the Mediterranean breakfast plate. Toss blueberries and pomegranate seeds with quinoa or couscous or drizzle balsamic over watermelon and feta cheese.
Yogurt and Berries
Greek yogurt has taken over the world in the last decade or so, but before that, it was a key part of the Mediterranean diet. True Greek yogurt tends to be bitter, so consider sweetening it with honey, berries, and your favorite nuts.
Fluffy ricotta pancakes pair well with classic Mediterranean flavors like lemon and blueberries. Drizzle on the honey or add a dollop of Greek yogurt to the stack. Best of all, the grandkids will love them, too!
As earlier noted, fish is a big part of the Mediterranean diet. That’s not a shock given that this meal plan is named after a body of water. What might surprise you, though, is that fish often appears on the Mediterranean breakfast table. Layer sliced smoked salmon and a soft cheese — goat cheese works well — on your favorite grain-rich bread then sprinkle with herbs and spices for an irresistible breakfast sandwich.
Mascarpone and Berries on Toast
Mascarpone cheese is made by combining lemon juice or another acid with heavy cream. This gives it a sweet flavor that makes the perfect base for fresh berries. Spread mascarpone on pitas or fresh bread for a fiber-rich breakfast dish that’s way more exciting than basic butter.
Start your day with texture! A healthy grain salad made with oats, quinoa, and fruits and flavored with maple syrup or honey and a dash of olive oil will delight your morning palate.
Lunch on the Mediterranean Diet
Forget your same-old, same-old sandwich. They’ve got nothin’ on the lunches you’ll eat on the Mediterranean diet.
There are so many ways to customize your chickpea salad, it’s almost impossible to be anti-chickpea. Chop vegetables like cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and red peppers, combine them with your chickpeas, sprinkle everything with dill, and prepare yourself for a mouthwatering Mediterranean lunch. Bonus points: The protein in the chickpeas will fuel you all day long.
Grilled Halloumi and Tomatoes
Halloumi cheese has a high melting point, which makes it perfect for grilling. It also develops a wonderful crust that makes for a nice counterpoint to sliced tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil smooshed between two slices of grain bread.
You can’t go wrong with a stuffed chicken pita. Grill and slice chicken and add your favorite herbs and spices, then combine with fresh cucumbers, peppers, or lentils. Top with a spoonful of pesto for an earthy kick that will jolt your taste buds from their slumber.
We heart hummus! (Who doesn’t? The stuff is delicious.) Store-bought hummus is decent enough, but honestly, homemade hummus is so easy to make, you’ll kick yourself for not doing it sooner. (Because it really does taste better.) All you need are chickpeas and tahini, a little olive oil, your favorite herbs and spices… and a food processor. From there, pair your hummus bowl with pita chips or pita bread, cheese, and veggies for a truly satisfying meal.
Lemon Chicken Skewers
Chicken is probably the second-most common protein in the Mediterranean diet. Typically, it’s grilled on skewers and topped with tzatziki sauce made from yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, and olive oil.
Can’t make up your mind? Make a tasting platter instead. Strain and spice olives, slice up peppers and cucumbers, and drop some hummus and pita chips on your plate for dipping. Add a bowl of fresh fruit for a little something sweet.
It doesn’t get any better than mozzarella and tomatoes. (At least, not in my opinion.) That’s why I make caprese salad skewers at least once a week. Pop cherry tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella balls on a skewer, drizzle all of ‘em with a little balsamic and olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. You can thank us later.
Dinners on the Mediterranean Diet
Everyone loves a fresh, healthy, and filling dinner, and these recipes make it easier than ever to make that magic happen in our kitchens.
Chicken meatballs are easy to make and remarkably filling. I like to use them one of three ways: paired with tzatziki sauce for dipping, used as a filling in dinner pitas, or placed on a bed of well-seasoned zucchini noodles.
Salmon and Veggies
You can’t go wrong with the classics, and salmon is certainly that, especially when grilled or poached. It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote a healthy brain as we age. Add veggies like asparagus or peppers to balance the plate and complete the meal.
Lentils are a staple on the Mediterranean diet and beloved for their nutty flavor. They’re packed with fiber, which is key for healthy digestion and metabolism, and are easy to incorporate into soups and stews. (Perfect for the coming fall and winter months!)
Once you try farro, you’ll want to add it to all your meals. This fiber-rich whole grain is one of the best-kept secrets of the Mediterranean. Farro pairs with other Mediterranean mainstays like chopped onions, chickpeas, brown rice, and even soft-boiled eggs to make delicious bowls for easy weekday dinners.
Shrimp is always a treat, and it’s also a source of several essential minerals. For an easy meal the whole family will love, cook your favorite shrimp on the stovetop or on the grill, then add in asparagus, feta, red onions, and a squeeze of lemon. You can also mix black beans or other legumes for an extra bit of fiber.
You can’t go wrong with a veggie flatbread pizza! I prefer making dough from scratch, but there’s no need if you’re not keen on baking. Classic Mediterranean ingredients are right at home in a flatbread recipe, especially ricotta, goat cheese, or pesto. You can sprinkle on some antioxidant-rich olives, peppers, tomatoes, and arugula for extra flavor.
A Vacation for Our Taste Buds
It’s easy to see why this meal plan is one of the best diets for weight loss and heart health. The benefits of following a Mediterranean diet — with its fresh fruits and vegetables, whole foods, and healthy fats — also include living a longer, healthier life. Of course, you should always consult with your doctor before starting any new diet and/or health regimen. But once you get the green light, you’ll be on the way to fresh flavors and better health. Happy eating!